Retirement in the Age of the Ownership Society: Keep Working

Bush may not have gotten everything he wanted with his “Ownership Society” gambit – the privatization of SocSec being his biggest defeat – but he got more than he should have and his anti-middle class policies are already bearing fruit.

In the WaPo yesterday, business columnist Martha Hamilton explained how the whole concept of “retirement” has changed in the last few years.

Here’s the harsh reality for those of us who have become worker-capitalists, responsible for funding our own retirement: We can’t afford to stop working at normal retirement age.

Typically workers have retired around age 62 or 63, although most anticipated staying on the job till age 65. But that will be way too soon for the many workers who haven’t accumulated enough in retirement savings accounts.

One in four workers currently in their 50s will need to work an extra two years because retirement won’t be affordable, according to a survey of employers published last month by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

***

But the truth is that finding or even retaining a job after the age of 40 isn’t always easy. An earlier study by the Center for Retirement Research found that one in five adults age 51 to 61 lost his or her job between 1992 and 2002.

This is usually what is known as a Catch-22: you need a job to retire but if you retire there are no jobs. Even Hamilton’s dismal scenario is rose-colored if you include some factors she didn’t:

  • all the people whose pensions have been stolen by corporations over the last decade;
  • all the people – millions and millions of us – too poor to have anything at all socked away for retirement because our wages have been stagnant for a quarter-century and barely paid current bills, if those;
  • the millions who were downsized before their pensions were fully invested;
  • the millions who now work for corporations that no longer even offer pension plans;
  • the many who had to dip into their IRA’s in order to save their homes when they were laid off or to pay exorbitant medical bills their health plans didn’t cover.

And that’s only a partial list. The toll on society’s resources in the coming years will be huge. Baby Boomers are starting to retire, and there are tens of millions of us who are going to hit the system like a hammer. Yes, Social Security will – or may – keep us from all-out penury but we may not be able to pay our mortgages or our rent without a steady job or some sort of assistance well into our 70’s. Have you noticed how many people of retirement age are suddenly working at your local McDonald’s or Wal-Mart? There’s a reason for that.

On SocSec alone, they’re broke. While the corporations are sending jobs overseas and automating anything here that pays a living wage, we could be faced with millions of 65+ workers competing for a few thousand minimum wage positions at Starbucks. It’s not impossible that even with SocSec more or less intact, though at a reduced level, we could once again be seeing retirees living on dog food at the end of the month – something we once said was outrageous and unacceptable.

This is where Bush and the right wing Republicans’ Social Darwinism has taken us. It isn’t just Iraq they have to answer for.

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